I think it’s pretty much beyond doubt that alternative history authors, particularly in the ancient astronaut genre, manipulate, mistranslate, and deceptively edit ancient and medieval texts in order to supply spurious evidence for their various pet ideas. What I can’t figure out is why they do it. In some cases the motive is simple cynicism and the need to supply the publishing maw with endless new meat; but in other cases I just can’t fathom the motivation. Going in to Jacques Vallee’s work on the recommendation of Steven Mizrach, I genuinely expected to be confronted with a higher level of ancient astronaut material, but it’s nothing but absolute bullshit and I cannot understand why.
Jacques Vallee has a PhD in computer science and must know something about research. He’s also a successful venture capitalist, so he doesn’t need the money. So why does he continue to produce pseudo-intellectual, academically-bankrupt falsified drivel? And why does he continue to recycle the exact same quotations and material from Passport to Magonia (1969) in his later works, sometimes word-for-word, just like David Childress and Erich von Däniken? Surely one can make a case for ancient UFOs without resorting to fabrication and deception.
I can’t honestly tell if he has simply deluded himself into believing that he is uncovering the real hidden meaning by selectively editing texts or if he feels like Graham Hancock and Erich von Däniken that he has no obligation to be fair but rather to manipulate and fabricate (“I use … innuendo and anything else that works,” as Hancock says) to advocate for a conclusion (“it’s like a war we have to win,” as von Däniken said). But it’s just so very wrong, and what’s worse is that ufologists and ancient astronaut believers—and even academics!—treat his manipulated, falsified garbage as though it had merit.
This is what I read in Vallee’s Wonders in the Air (2009) today:
Case 96 in Vallee’s list of the “best” evidence for prehistoric UFOs cites a 1972 Italian popular mystery magazine as the sole source for the claim that Frederick Barbarossa saw three UFOs in the sky at his coronation in 1152. This is followed by Vallee’s “hope” that future researchers could track down some sort of real source. Either Vallee or the Italian source is hopelessly confused, unable to distinguish between Frederick’s royal coronation in 1152 as King of Germany at Aachen and his imperial coronation in 1155 as Holy Roman Emperor at Rome. I have no idea what the warrant is for the UFO claim; I can find no mention of stars or lights at either coronation.
Case 98 is worse because it is more subtly wrong. Here’s how Vallee gives the text of Nicholas Trivet’s Annales sex regum Angilae: “At the watch night (vigilia) of the Lord’s Nativity, two fiery stars appeared in the western sky. One was large, the other small. At first, they appeared joined together. Afterwards, they were for a long time separated distinctly.” This would be December 24, 1167. Now, here’s the actual Latin text followed by my translation:
Regina Alienora in Angliam transiens filium peperit, quem Joannem vocavit, in vigilia Nativitatis Dominicae, in qua apparuerunt in occidente duae stellae ignei coloris; una magna, et altera parva; primo conjunctae, sed postmodum ab invicem longo spatio sunt distinctae.
Vallee’s imperfect translation, in which he (a) deletes the important fact that “color” was fiery, not the “star,” (b) appears to mistake “distinctae” for an adverb rather than part of a perfect passive verb, (c) turns a large space into a “long time” (though spatium, medieval spacium, has a secondary meaning of time in the sense of a specific interval or space of time, impossible in this construction due to the preposition ab), and (d) and leaves out Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and Prince John, provides a subtly different experience. Vallee’s version suggests that two UFO-like glowing ships appeared and buzzed the sky for many hours. In context, we can see that this is another in the endless series of medieval and ancient claims that royal births were presaged by prodigies in the sky. The actual Latin shows that this was no alien spacecraft but rather an orange light that split in two and separated in flight; it sounds like a meteor breaking up as it enters the atmosphere—assuming, of course, that (a) it has an objective reality and that (b) Trivet’s information was accurate 150 years after the events in question. And that’s where things get interesting.
There is a second text, unknown to Vallee, that provides the same information and shows that the “color” was an integral part of the story. It’s from Robert of Torigni, the abbot at Mont Saint-Michel; and his account, which Trivet was copying almost verbatim, precedes Trivet’s by a century and was near contemporary with events. Again the original Latin is followed by my translation:
Regina Alienor transfretavit in Angliam, ducens secum filiam suam Mathildem. In vigilia Natalis Domini, duae stellae ignei coloris, quarum una erat magna, altera parva, apparuerunt in Occidente, et erant quasi conjunctae; postea disjunctae sunt longo spacio, et apparere desiverunt. Natus est Johannes filius regis Anglorum.
In this version, the lights are even more clearly a meteor since they gradually separate, dim, and vanish from view, just like a meteor breaking apart and burning up in the atmosphere, the larger portion moving faster as the smaller fragment lags behind.
In sum, Vallee and his coauthor, Chris Aubeck, are either incompetent at translation and lazy or incompetent at research, or they are intentionally fabricating material in support of UFOs. Now why again am I supposed to take the hypotheses derived from this falsified material seriously?
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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